by John Walton
In the fall of 2017, the Friends of Gualala River (FoGR) working group considered a proposal to engage the community in a discussion regarding the 112 acre Mill Bend Properties, including the estuary of the river, that had recently been offered for sale for the first time in nearly 70 years. FoGR’s Board suggested presenting the proposal to the Gualala Municipal Advisory Council, asking them to sponsor a community forum. The GMAC community forum, held on November 29, 2017, drew a crowd of more than 70 community members to discuss ideas for the purchase and future of Mill Bend.
The community input showed strong preference for protecting the property from commercial development, improving public access to the river and restoring the natural habitat. Based on these results, the Mill Bend Coalition was formed and included Laurie Mueller, Charlie Ivor, Joel Chaban, Jeanne and Rick Jackson, Kathleen Chasey, and John Walton. The group quickly began a series of activities, meeting with diverse stakeholders and potential funders, securing endorsements, and gathering information to help negotiate a fair price for the property.
Throughout the process, FoGR and Redwood Coast Land Conservancy (RCLC) members contributed time, energy, and the funds necessary to keep up the necessary momentum. All of that effort was rewarded in September, 2019, when a conservation buyer, the Allemall Foundation, closed escrow on the property and placed it in the hands of the newly formed Gualala River Park Conservancy LLC (GRPC). The GRPC is providing RCLC two years to raise the money to purchase Mill Bend at cost. Thanks to the work of RCLC, grant funds will almost certainly be available in the near future.
More than 100 people turned out for another Community Forum on November 5, 2019, at the invitation of RCLC to celebrate this purchase and hear about the beginning of future planning. This tremendous community asset will be restored and protected in perpetuity. The details of the purchase, the importance of this land, and the initial plans have been well covered in the Independent Coast Observer and regional press.
A huge thanks is due to FoGR and its members, who supported this effort from its inception. Special thanks to Laurie Mueller and Kathleen Chasey, and all the Board members of RCLC who worked tirelessly for the two years it took to realize this purchase, to the Allemall Foundation for their financial and moral support, to Real Estate Broker Cindy Kennedy for her tenacious and skillful handling of this transaction, to RCLC for stepping up to accept the responsibility of stewardship that will be required to improve and maintain Mill Bend, and to the community for their strong show of support which has been vital in gaining the support of potential funders who will be critical to this effort.
The next and most immediate challenge is to raise $600,000 from the community to sustain Mill Bend in the future. The ability and willingness of the community to support the project financially is a factor that will be considered in all grant applications. Please continue to follow and support the progress of Mill Bend as RCLC brings it back to its natural state and continues the development of the Gualala River Park!